Talking Bananas: An interview with Russell T Davies

Here Russell T Davies chats about Banana, E4’s hit new show about young LGBT lives.

It’s a two-hander, but it’s not a normal one, is it?

No, it’s not. I like Banana to change and to keep people on their toes and surprise people. And E4 is all about risk – and Banana takes all sorts of risks. Every episode is different – there’s drama, tragedy, romantic comedy, and then this.

This being a two-hander where one of the characters basically doesn’t speak English!

Yes, that’s right. Pretty much every word uttered by Zara is in Yoruba [a Nigerian dialect]. She’s not understood, which isn’t unusual for her, because she’s never understood or listened to. She just comes in and cleans and goes away again, unnoticed. She’s part of the underclass that exists, however much we might not like to think about it. I liked the fact that the last episode of Banana, after all of the dramas about the gays and their lives and loves and disappointments, was about the women who clean for them. It got us wondering, on the set, who cleans up after us?

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Did you spend as long on Zara’s dialogue as on Vanessa’s?

Yes, I did, actually. I wrote the script, and then it was translated into Yoruba. And we thought about whether to have an English translation of the script on set, and decided not to. But for the extremely small minority of viewers who can speak Yoruba, there are lots of jokes in there, because Vanessa’s opening up about her life and her lesbian relationships, and thinks they’re becoming friends, and Zara is actually disgusted by what she’s hearing and really doesn’t approve of it.

For the viewer, in effect, Vanessa’s just delivering a whole series of soliloquys, isn’t she?

Yes, it becomes almost a monologue, even though the person who’s crying out for attention is sitting there – which is very true of life, I think. I actually created Vanessa for Lynn [Hunter], because I’d worked with her before, and loved her. She was in a supporting role when I worked with her on an ITV drama called Mine, All Mine. I was always thinking Cucumber was lacking something, and about two years ago I was in a Cardiff café one Sunday morning, and Lynn walked in and I just went, ‘That’s it! That’s the woman! That’s her!’ And I went and wrote the part for her. And it’s the first time, in all her acting life, that she’s had a big, strong, leading role in something, and I think she’s magnificent. And I love the fact that Channel 4 is so bold. E4 is meant to be a youth channel, and Zara is young, but Vanessa – well, Lynn would happily tell you herself, she’s 62 years old. And there she is, being absolutely magnificent in this lead role. I love this episode, I think it’s a mad, strange episode, and I’m very proud of it.

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The finale of Banana hits screens on 12 March, 10pm, E4.

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